How many of you have ever prepared a meal for a large group of people and wished that you had at least one other person to help you? If you have, you can understand how Martha felt in the passage from Luke 10:28-32.
This story takes place while Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem and the cross. Luke presumes that Jesus and the disciples will encounter listening hearts and gracious hosts. Mary and Martha represent the hospitality that Jesus and the disciples will need on their journey. When Jesus arrived in Bethany with many disciples, Martha knew she was going to have a lot of work to do. In the culture of that time, women measured their worth by how well they performed chores like cooking and cleaning. We as Christians are called on to extend hospitality both as hosts and as guests, and to fellow believers and nonbelievers alike. We are not called on to simply tolerate and endure those people who are not like us.
Every responsible person feels the burden of carrying more than his/her fair share, and Martha felt the same way. It is too much to expect that the responsible person will never feel resentment. The older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is a good example of this. We are often in situations when we have too much to do and not enough time to do it. We have trouble saying “no.” Christ did not come to encourage us to be superhumans. He came to give us an abundant life, rest, peace and joy. Our relationship with Jesus is more important than anything else in life.
Like Martha, we can be so obsessed with doing what we think we should be doing that we miss what God wants us to do. All of us face the pressures of daily lives because there is constant pressure on us to produce or succeed, especially if we are working. There are times when we have to set aside our “to do” lists so that we can spend time with God. We are to be more like Mary and less like Martha. If there is anything more important than serving Jesus, it is simply being in his presence. God wants us to learn to stop and rest once in awhile. He wants us to balance all the demands in our lives. He encourages us to ignore the distractions in our lives and concentrate on our lives with God.
Our main priority as Christians is to stay centered on Christ. One way we can do this is by searching God’s word. While Martha was busy preparing the meal, Mary was busy listening to Jesus’ teachings. Our relationship with the Bible reflects our relationship with Christ’s teachings. Scripture turns the world’s logic on its head. People might think that we are being unreasonable by listening to and obeying God’s Word, but the truth is that only people who study His Word will know what reason really is. God’s course and logic will ultimately prevail.
There is a balance that has to be struck in our Christian lives. Jesus urges us to do good deeds just like Martha was doing a good deed by preparing the meal, but he also urges us to engage in kingdom work. Doing good deeds as Christians has to be balanced with citizenship in the kingdom. That citizenship can only be received by grace through faith in Christ.
Martha’s name comes from an Aramaic word meaning “lady” or “mistress,” as in the “lady of the house.” It describes her personality: responsible, serious and intense. Mary is the opposite. When Jesus arrived, she sat down at his feet to listen to His teaching. That position was reserved for official disciples of a teacher, and never for a woman in the culture of that time. A rabbi’s disciples sat at his feet when he taught. That was the proper place for a disciple, and since Mary was a “disciple” of Jesus, she was in the proper place. On the other hand, Martha was not in the proper place to learn from Jesus. Mary was in fellowship with Jesus, and our proper place is to be in fellowship with Jesus.
Martha is like many of us. We focus on tasks when relating to others. We are so eager to serve that sometimes we spot needs without asking and supply what is needed without thinking of ourselves. That’s good up to a point. Without having a task-oriented temperament, our world would come to a halt, but if we pay too much attention to things that don’t matter and not enough attention to the person who matters-namely, Jesus-there is a problem. Martha had that problem, and instead of looking to herself for the solution, she lashed out at Jesus and Mary. She expected Jesus to rebuke Mary for being lazy and selfish, but Martha was the one who was rebuked for neglecting the most important thing-time with Jesus.
There is an old saying that “where your heart is, there will be your actions.” If our heart is with God, we will follow him. We will see God’s love. While Martha was preparing physical food, Jesus was offering spiritual food. Mary enjoyed this spiritual food. Her focus was on God, and in the words of Jesus, she chose the right thing to focus on.
This story deals with our goals in life, or what has our attention most of the time. Martha was focused on being a good hostess. She had no time to be with the Lord. Like Martha, we can easily lose sight of who we are and whose we are. The good things in life can choke out God’s life in us. Sometimes we have to get rid of some of our roles, identities and patterns of behaviour to become more fully who we are as Christians and be more fully into our Christian ministry. If we make God and his presence in our lives our primary focus, we will find that he is the key to everything in our lives.
Martha was worried about something that was good. She was literally serving God by having Jesus over for dinner. Her aim was to please God, but her work became more important than her Lord. Serving Jesus became a way to serve herself. Martha and Mary represent the two types of people who are needed to do God’s work-the doers and the followers. For example, Jesus knew that when he needed a place to rest, Martha would have the welcome mat out for him 24 hours a day. Mary and Martha are not mutually exclusive. Thinking, especially about God’s kingdom, can lead to action. God needs both types of people so that his work can be done here on earth.
The heart of humility is found in serving others. Martha was on the right path. Her heart was in the right place, but she was focused on the wrong thing. She was focused on the work she was doing when, like Mary, she should have been focused on Jesus. We are called to be listeners of the word, and we are also called to serve others. The key is to strike a balance between these two priorities.
There are many varieties of people in God’s kingdom. There are conventional people who keep things running smoothly, pay attention to detail and have hidden reserves of strength. There are also unconventional people who have lots of energy at times and have the ability and vision to change the world but are tired and helpless at other times. These different types of people argue from time to time because they approach life from different directions. Love forms the basis of God’s kingdom, and those who love each other will find that they compliment each other and that everyone’s gifts and strengths are needed.
When people are with us, we must be with them. When God is present with us, we must be present with him. When life gets complicated, simplicity is the best solution. We must make the choice to set aside time in our daily lives to be silent and listen for God’s voice. The best way to do that is to learn to say “no.” A kind, polite, respectful no is the key to unlocking the power of spiritual disciplines. Saying no to others frees us to say yes to God and listen to his word. Jesus and his disciples represent the kingdom of God that is coming near. Will we welcome it like Mary and Martha did? Will we welcome the kingdom with hospitality and service in the world?
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